The meaning of success

I once had a quite extensive discussion with a colleague about several topics related to the software industry, and slowly but methodically we reached a fundamental disagreement on what “success” means. Needless to say, without agreeing on what “success” means it’s really hard to reach a conclusion on anything else. I now believe that many problems in society — not only in the software industry — can be derived from our mismatches in our understanding of the word “success”. It is like trying to decide if abortion is moral without agreeing on what “moral” means — and we actually don’t have such an agreement — and in fact, some definitions of morality might rely on the definition of “success”.

For example: which is more successful? Android? iPhone? or Maemo? If you think a successful software platform is the one that sells more (as many gadgets geeks probably do), you would answer Android, if on the other hand you think success is defined by what is more profitable (as many business people would do), you would answer iPhone. But I contend that success is not relative only relative to a certain context; there’s also an objective success that gives a clear answer to this question, and I hope to reach it at the end of this post.

This not a meta-philosophical exercise, I believe “success” in the objective sense can be clearly defined and understood, but in order to do that, I would need to show some examples and counter-examples in different disciplines. If you don’t believe in the theory of evolution of species by natural selection, you should probably stop reading.

Definition

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as (among other definitions):

  • a : to turn out well
  • b : to attain a desired object or end <students who succeed in college>

From this we can say there’s two types of success; one is within a specific context (e.g. college), and the other one is in general. In this blog post I will talk about generic success, with no specific goal, or rather with the generic ultimate goal. Since it’s highly debatable (and difficult) how to define this “ultimate goal”, I will concentrate on the opposite; to try to define the ultimate failure in a way that no rational person would deny it.

Humans vs. Bacteria

My first example is: what organisms are more successful? Humans, or bacteria? There are many angles in which we could compare these two organisms, but few would reach a definite answer. The knee-jerk reaction of most people would be to say: “well, clearly humans are more evolved than bacteria, therefore we win”. I’m not an expert in the theory of evolution, but I believe the word “evolved” is misused here. Both bacteria and humans are the results of billions of years of evolution, in fact, one could say that some species of bacteria are more evolved because Homo Sapiens is a relatively new species and only appeared a few hundred thousands years ago, while many species of bacteria have been evolving for millions of years. “Kids these days with their fancy animal bodies… I have been killing animals since before you got out of the water… Punk” — A species of bacteria might say to younger generations if such a thing would be possible. At best humans are as evolved as bacteria. “Primitive” is probably the right word; bacteria is more primitive because it closely resembles its ancestors. But being primitive isn’t necessarily bad.

In order to reach a more definitive answer I will switch the comparison to dinosaurs vs. bacteria, and come back to the original question later. Dinosaurs are less primitive than bacteria, yet dinosaurs died, and bacteria survived. How something dead can be considered successful? Strictly speaking not all dinosaurs are dead, some evolved into birds, but that’s besides the point; let’s suppose for the sake of argument that they are all dead (which is in fact how many people consider them). A devil’s advocate might suggest that this comparison is unfair, because in different circumstances dinosaurs might have not died, and in fact they might be thriving today. Maybe luck is an important part of success, maybe not, but it’s pointless to discuss about what might have been; what is clear is that they are dead now, and that’s a clear failure. Excuses don’t turn a failure into a success.

Let me be clear about my contention; anything that ceases to exist is a failure, how could it not? In order to have even the smallest hope of winning the race, whatever the race may be, even if it doesn’t have a clear goal, or has many winners; you have to be on the race. It could not be clearer: what disappears can’t succeed.

Now, being more evolved, or less primitive, is not as a trump card as it might appear; nature is a ruthless arena, and there are no favorites. The vast majority of species that have ever lived are gone now, and it doesn’t matter how “unfair” it might seem, to nature only the living sons matter, everyone else was a failure.

If we accept that dinosaurs failed, then one can try to use the same metric for humans, but there’s a problem (for our exercise); humans are still alive. How do you compare two species that are not extinct? Strictly speaking all species alive today are still in the race. So how easy is it for humans to go extinct? This is a difficult question to answer, but lets suppose an extreme event turns the average temperature of the Earth 100°C colder; that would quite likely kill all humans (and probably a lot of plants and animals), but most certainly a lot of bacterial species would survive. It has been estimated that there’s 5×1030 bacteria on Earth, countless species, and possibly surpassing the biomass of all plants and animals. In fact, human beings could not survive without bacteria, since it’s essential to the human microbiome, and if you sum the bacteria genes in a human body, it probably outranks the human genes by a factor of 100-to-1. So, humans, like dinosaurs, could disappear rather easily, but bacteria would still be around for a long long time. From this point of view, bacteria are clearly more successful than humans.

Is there any scenario in which humans would survive, and bacteria would not? (therefore making humans more successful) I can think of some, but they would be far into the future, and most definitely we are not yet there. We are realizing the importance of our microbiome only now, and in the process of running the Human Microbiome Project, so we don’t even know what role our bacteria plays, therefore we don’t know how we could replace them with something else (like nanorobots). If bacteria disappeared today, so would we. It would follow then that bacteria are more successful, and there’s no getting around that.

Fundamentals and Morality

Could we define something more fundamental about success? I believe so: a worse failure than dying, is not being able to live in the first place, like a fetus that is automatically aborted because of a bad mutation, or even worse; an impossibility. Suppose “2 + 2 = 5”; this of course is impossible, so it follows that it’s a total failure. The opposite would be “2 + 2 = 4”; this is as true as anything can be, therefore it’s a total success.

There’s a realm of mathematics that is closer to what we consider morality: game theory. But don’t be fooled by its name; game theory is as serious as any other realm of mathematics, and the findings as conclusive as probability. An example of game theory is the prisoner’s dilemma — here’s a classic version of it:

Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for a conviction. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal—if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates/assists), the betrayer goes free and the one that remains silent receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do? If it is supposed here that each player is only concerned with lessening his time in jail, the game becomes a non-zero sum game where the two players may either assist or betray the other. In the game, the sole worry of the prisoners seems to be increasing his own reward. The interesting symmetry of this problem is that the logical decision leads each to betray the other, even though their individual ‘prize’ would be greater if they cooperated.

There are different versions of this scenario; with different rules and more complex agents game theory arrives to different conclusions as to what rational agents should do to maximize their outcomes, but these strategies are quite factual and universal; we are not talking about human beings; they are independent of culture, or historicism; the rules are as true here as they are in the other side of the universe. So if game theory determines that a certain strategy fails in certain situation, that’s it; it’s as hard of a failure as “2 + 2 = 5”.

With this notion we might be able to dive into more realistic and controversial examples — like slavery. Nowadays we consider slavery immoral, but that wasn’t the case in the past. One might say that slavery was a failure (because it doesn’t exist (at least as a desirable concept)), but that is only the case in human society, perhaps there’s another civilization in an alien planet that still has slavery, and they are still debating, so one might be tempted to say that slavery’s failure is still contended (perhaps even more so if you live in Texas). But we got rid of slavery because of a reason; it’s not good for everybody. It might be good for the slave owners, and good for some slaves, but not good for everybody. It is hard to imagine how another civilization could arrive to a different conclusion. Therefore it is quite safe to say that in all likelihood slavery is a failure, because of its tendency to disappear. Perhaps at some point game theory would advance to the point where we can be sure about this, and the only reason it took so long to get rid of slavery is that we are not rational beings, and it takes time for our societies to reach this level of rationality.

Objective morality and the moral landscape

Similarly to the objective success I’m proposing, Sam Harris proposes a new version of objective morality in his book The Moral Landscape. I must admit I haven’t read the book, but I have watched his online lectures about the topic. Sam Harris asserts that the notion that science shouldn’t deal with morality is a myth, and that advances in neuroscience (his field of expertise) can, and should, enlighten us as to what should be considered moral. Thus, morality is not relative, but objective. The different “peaks” in the landscape of morality are points in which society aims to be, in order to be a good one, and historically the methods to find these “peaks” has been rather rudimentary, but a new field of moral science could be the ultimate tool.

Regardless of the method we use to find these “peaks”, the important notion (for this post), is that there’s an abyss; the lowest moral point. The worst possible misery for all beings is surely bad:

The worst-possible-misery-for-everyone is ‘bad.’ If the word ‘bad’ is going to be mean anything surely it applies to the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone. Now if you think the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone isn’t bad, or might have a silver lining, or there might be something worse… I don’t know what you’re talking about. What is more, I’m reasonably sure you don’t know what you’re talking about either.

I want to hijack this concept of the worst-possible-misery-for-everyone that is the basis of (scientific) objective morality, and use it as a comparison to my contention that ceasing-to-exist is the basis for objective success.

Today our society is confronted with moral dilemmas such as gay marriage and legal abortion, many of these are hijacked by religious bigotry and irrationality, and it’s hard to move forward because many still define morality through religious dogmas, and even people who don’t, and are extremely rational, still cling to the idea that morality comes from “God” (whatever that might mean). Even many scientists claim that morality cannot be found through science, and others that morality is relative. But yet others disagree and have tried to define morality in universal terms, like Sam Harris. The jury is still out on this topic, so I cannot say that morality should definitely be defined in terms of what is successful to our worldwide society, merely that it is a possibility — A rather strong one, in my opinion.

Life

It’s a little more tricky to define what constitutes a successful life, because all life ends. The solution must be one on the terms of transcendence: offspring, books, memes, etc. However people living a more hedonistic life might disagree; but lets be clear, a life can be unsuccessful in the grand scheme of things, but still be good, and the other way around. It might be tempting to define success in different terms: “if my goal is to enjoy life, and I do; I’m succeeding”, and while that is true, that’s being successful in relative terms, not general terms.

Some people might have trouble with this notion, so I would give an example: Grigori Perelman vs. Britney Spears. Most people probably don’t know Grigori, but he solved one of the most difficult problems in mathematics, and was awarded one million USD for it. Clearly this would have helped him to become famous, but he rejected interviews and rejected the money. Does this means he rejected success? Well, lets try to view this from the vantage point of 500 years into the future; both Britney Spears and Grigori Perelman would be dead by that time, so the only things that remain would be their transcendence. Most likely nobody would remember Britney Spears, nor listen to any of her music, while it’s quite likely that people would still be using Grigori Perelman’s mathematics, as he would be one of the giants upon which future scientists would stand. In this sense Grigori is more successful, and any other sense of success would be relative to something else, not objective.

Test

Hopefully my definition of success should be clear by now in order to apply it to the initial example.

iPhone

iPhone is clearly successful in being profitable, but many products have been profitable in the past and have gone with the wind. The real question is: What are the chances that the iPhone will not disappear? It is hard to defend the position that the iPhone will remain for a long period of time because it’s a single product, from a single company, and specially considering that many technology experts can’t find an explanation for its success other than the Apple Cult. While it was clearly superior from an aesthetic point of view while it was introduced, there’s many competitors that are on par today. Maybe it would not disappear in 10 years, but maybe it would. It’s totally unclear.

Android

Compared to the iPhone, Android has the advantage that many companies work on it, directly and indirectly, and it doesn’t live on a single product. So if a single company goes down, that would not kill Android, even if that company is Google. So, as a platform, it’s much more resilient than iOS. Because of this reason alone, Android is clearly more successful than the iPhone — according to the aforementioned definition.

Maemo

Maemo is dead (mostly), so that would automatically mean that it’s a failure. However, Maemo is not a single organism; it consists of many subsystems that are part of the typical Linux ecosystem: Linux kernel, X.org, Qt, WebKit, GStreamer, Telepathy, etc. These subsystems remain very much alive, in fact, they existed before Maemo, and will continue to exist, and grow. Some of these subsystems are used in other platforms, such as WebOS (also dead (mostly)), Tizen, MeeGo (also dead (kinda)), and Mer.

A common saying is that open source projects never die. Although this is not strictly true, the important thing is that they are extremely difficult to kill (just ask Microsoft). Perhaps the best analogy in the animal kingdom would be to compare Maemo to a sponge. You can divide a sponge into as many parts as you want, put it into a blender, even make sure the pieces pass through a filter with very minute holes. It doesn’t matter; the sponge would reorganize itself again. It’s hard to imagine a more resilient animal.

If this is the case, one would expect Maemo (or its pieces) to continue as Tizen, or Mer (on Jolla phones), or perhaps other platform yet to be born, even though today it seems dead. If this happens, then Maemo would be even more successful than Android. Time will tell.

Predictions

Like any a scientific theory, the really interesting bit of this idea would be it’s predictive power, so I will make a list of things in their order of success, and if I’m correct the less successful ones would tend to disappear first (or their legacy):

  • Mer > Android > iOS > WP
  • Linux > Windows
  • Bill Gates > Steve Jobs > Carlos Slim (Richest man in the world)
  • Gay marriage > Inequality
  • Rationality > Religious dogma
  • Collaboration > Institutions

To me, this definition of “success” is as true as “2 + 2 = 4” (in fact, it’s kind of based on such fundamental truths), unfortunately, it seems most people don’t share this point of view, as we still have debates over topics which are in my opinion a waste of time. What do you think? Are there examples where this definition of success doesn’t fit?

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MeeGo scales, because Linux scales

To me, and a lot of people, it’s obvious why MeeGo scales to a wide variety of devices, but apparently that’s not clear to other people, so I’ll try to explain why that’s the case.

First, let’s divide the operating system:

  1. Kernel
  2. Drivers
  3. Adaptation
  4. System Frameworks
  5. Application Framework
  6. Applications

“Linux” can mean many things, in the case of Android, Linux means mostly the Kernel (which is heavily modified), and in some cases the Drivers (although sometimes they have to be written from scratch), but all the layers above are specific to Android.

On Maemo, MeeGo, Moblin, and LiMo, “Linux” means an upstream Kernel (no drastic changes), upstream Drivers (which means they can be shared with other upstream players as they are), but also means “Linux ecosystem”; D-Bus, X.org, GStreamer, GTK+/Qt/EFL, etc. Which means they take advantage of already existing System and Application Frameworks. And all they have to do, is build the Applications, which is not an easy task, but certainly easier than having to do all the previous ones.

Now, the problem when creating MeeGo, is that for reasons I won’t (can’t?) explain here, Maemo and Moblin were forced to switch from GTK+ to Qt. This might have been the right move in the long term, but it means rewriting two very big layers of the operating system, in fact, the two layers that differentiate the various mobile platforms for the most part. And this of course means letting go of a lot of talent that helped build both Maemo and Moblin.

For better or worse, the decision was made, and all we could do is ride along with it. And maturizing MeeGo, essentially means maturizing these two new layers being written not entirely from scratch (as Qt was already there), but pretty much (as you have to add new features to it, and build on top).

Now, did MeeGo fail? Well, I don’t know when this UI can be considered mature enough, but sooner or later, it will be (I do think it will be soon). The timeframe depends also on your definition of “mature”, but regardless of that, it will happen. After that, MeeGo will be ready to ship on all kinds of devices. All the hardware platform vendors have to do, is write the drivers, and the adaptation, and they already do anyway for other sw platforms.

Needless to say, the UI is irrelevant to the hardware platform.

So, here’s the proof that the lower layers are more than ready:

Just after a few months of announcing MeeGo IVI, these guys were able to write a very impressive application thanks to QML, and ignore the official UI.

The OMAP4 guys went for the full MeeGO UI. No problems.

Even though Freescale is probably not that committed to MeeGo, it’s easier to create demo using it (Qt; Nomovok) rather than other platforms. It’s even hardware accelerated.

Renesas also chose the Nomovok demo to show their hardware capabilities.

MeeGo 1.1 running on HTC’s HD2

One guy; yes, one guy. Decides to run MeeGo on his HTC, and succeeds. Of course, he uses the work already done by Ubuntu for HD2, but since MeeGo is close to upstream, the same kernel can be used. Sure, it’s slow (no hardware acceleration), and there’s many things missing, but for a short amount of time spent by hobbyists, that’s pretty great already.

This is one is not so impressive, but also shows the work of one guy porting MeeGo to Nexus S

And running on Archos 9. Not very impressive UI, but the point is that it runs on this hw.

Conclusion

So, as you can see MeeGo is already supported in many hardware platforms; not because the relevant companies made a deal with Nokia or Intel; they don’t have to. The only thing they have to do is support Linux; Linux is what allows them to run MeeGo, and Linux is what allows MeeGo to run on any hardware platform.

This is impossible with WP7 for numerous reasons; it’s closed source, it’s proprietary, it’s Microsoft, etc. It’s not so impossible to do the same with Android, but it’s more difficult than with MeeGo because they don’t share anything with a typical linux ecosystem; they are on a far away island on their own.

New project: gst-dsp, with beagleboard demo image

It took me a lot more than I expected, but I finally managed to get the beagleboard booting and happy with the latest linux kernel (2.6.32-rc3), DSS2, and dsp-bridge driver.

And then I could run gst-dsp: a native GStreamer plug-in to access Texas Instruments’ DSP algorithms for OMAP3 platforms. Which marks the time for making a public release.

Here’s the video 🙂

The video playback is running on the beagleboard with gst-dsp and gst-omapfb (no X) with TI public DSP binaries; it’s a WVGA (800×480) MPEG-4 video. It’s not running as smoothly as I wanted; it seems the public binaries are a bit buggy, and there’s some problem with the dsp-bridge driver writing directly to the framebuffer, but at least it somewhat works 🙂

The video recording is done with an N900, official system (which uses gst-dsp ;)), and the resulting video is ; 848×480 MPEG-4.

You can find the demo image for the beagleboard, along with instructions, here.

The kernel code is on gitorious; the important tag is v2.6.32-felipec1.

And gst-dsp is hosted on Google Code, although the git repository is actually on github.

The code wasn’t written from scratch, TI’s projects: tiopenmax and libbridge, helped a lot.

And of course many other people made the first release possible (see the shortlog at the end).

Enjoy 😉

Andriy Shevchenko (1):
      base: fix a crash on send codec data

Felipe Contreras (180):
      Initial commit
      Register dsp node
      Add README
      Fix and update copyrights
      Add ALLOCATE_HEAP and ALLOCATE_SN to dsp_bridge
      Add handy dsp_send_message
      dummy: use dsp_send_message
      Rename gstdsp.* to plugin.*
      Makefile: cleanup
      dummy: trivial clanups
      Add log utility
      Use log utility
      dmm_buffer: size_t improvements
      dmm_buffer: always unmap when freeing
      dmm_buffer: use getpagesize()
      dmm_buffer: alignment improvements
      dmm_buffer: add user_data field
      Add MPEG-4 video decoder
      README: update
      mp4vdec: trivial cleanup
      mp4vdec: send signal to output_loop
      mp4vdec: flush output buffers too
      mp4vdec: reset output port
      mp4vdec: extra check for null buffer
      mp4vdec: use atomic operations for status
      mp4vdec: use more atomic operations for status
      mp4vdec: send stop signal before
      mp4vdec: re-use comm buffers
      dmm_buffer: reorganize a bit
      dmm_buffer: add dmm_buffer_reserve
      dmm_buffer: allow to re-reserve memory
      dmm_buffer: allow re-mapping
      mp4vdec: trivial cleanup
      dmm_buffer: unmap before unreserving
      mp4vdec: re-use mappings for output buffers
      mp4vdec: convert flush condition to semaphore
      Remove cond.h
      Rename mp4vdec to vdec
      vdec: trivial cleanup
      vdec: trivial reorganization
      vdec: prepare for multiple algos
      vdec: move create_node to dsp_start
      vdec: start dsp node after getting the caps
      vdec: initial support for H.264
      vdec: add Juha to authors list
      README: update
      vdec: cleanup
      vdec: make dsp_thread static
      vdec: reorganize a bit
      New base class
      Add new video encoder
      base: handle more commands
      base: reorganize got_message a bit
      venc: improve jpeg args
      venc: send jpeg dynamic params
      base: cleanup setup_output_buffers
      base: remove unused buffer_count
      base: reorganize a bit
      base: add use_pad_alloc option
      base: free mapped buffers on dsp_stop()
      base: be more verbose on get_slot()
      README: update
      Makefile: check for missing symbols
      New utility gstdsp_register()
      base: detect dsp errors
      base: properly handle dsp errors
      base: post error in the bus
      base: extra check for status in outout_loop()
      base: free events array
      base: reinitialize state on NULL->READY
      base: use circular buffer for timestamps
      base: increase ts_array
      base: increase mapping cache
      dummy: reorganize map_buffer
      dummy: input buffers don't need alignment
      dummy: cleanup
      dummy: don't map buffers
      venc: increase framesize limit for jpeg
      base: add gstdsp_post_error()
      venc: allocate a buffer when framesize is unaligned
      base: decrease wait for events timeout
      base: more error messages
      base: re-initialize on READY->PAUSED
      base: don't panic on wrong status
      base: destroy node at the right time
      base: catch playback completed message
      base: possible memleak fixes
      vdec: send codec data for MPEG-4
      base: make map cache optional
      plugin: set more proper ranks
      vdec: add framerate workaround
      vdec: remove gstdsp_send_buffer()
      base: add create_node() vmethod
      base: add parsing facilities
      Add h263 parser
      parse: update framesize only when unset
      Random cleanups
      base: add support for stream params
      venc: add H.263
      venc: use h263 by default
      Reorganize encoders
      base: send codec data for all the codecs
      base: keep trying if parse func fails
      base: trivial cleanup
      Trivial cleanups
      log: don't display info level
      log: decrease log level for buffer allocs
      log: add pr_test
      base: rename array to cache
      base: rename 'buffer' to 'comm'
      base: event cleanup
      base: reorganize a bit
      base: assume output buffer is always there
      base: remove out_buffer, use port buffer
      base: store input buffer
      base: trivial cleanup
      base: flush ports on stop
      base: plug some possible leaks
      base: make map_buffer() more conservative
      base: trigger semaphore after buffer modifications
      base: re-use input buffer
      base: add port index field
      Add async queue
      base: allow multiple buffers
      base: allow child elements to configure the ports
      vdec: increase the number of buffers to 2
      venc: trivial fixes
      log: add missing include
      base: re-enable queues properly
      venc: decrease input buffer size
      base: wait for eos
      base: possible fix
      Initial MPEG-4 video encoder support
      gstdspvenc.h: preemptively add H.264 to the list
      base: add send_codec_data() helper
      vdec: use send_codec_data()
      vdec: extra checks
      Add skip hack
      Revert "venc: forcing mpeg4 I frame each i_frame_interval"
      venc: reorganize stream/dynamic params
      base: trivial cleanup
      base: properly set param virt addr
      Add param argument to buffer callbacks
      Add buffer argument to buffer callbacks
      base: add buffer recv_cb
      base: add check for end addr alignment
      vdec: fix extra unref for codec-data
      base: trivial cleanups
      Rename dmm_buffer_flush() to dmm_buffer_clean()
      base: fix memory read
      dmm_buffer: clean instead of flush
      dmm_buffer: add cache 'flush' function back
      Use more proper cache functions
      base: handle bad node termination
      base: make EOS alignment an option
      jpegenc: enable eos align
      venc: improve integer framerate calculation
      venc: fix bitrate calculation
      venc: cleanup bitrate calculation
      venc: remove jpeg from bitrate calculation
      venc: tweak bitrate calculation
      venc: trivial cleanups
      venc: add 'quality' field
      venc: calculate smaller buffer sizes
      Fix some static analysis warnings
      log: avoid pr_info when gst debugging is off
      base: remove use_map_cache
      Trivial cleanups
      Cleanup type registrations
      base: improve some compiler hints
      dmm-buffer: check cache flush size
      base: properly free node resources
      Create custom dsp_node_t
      dsp-bridge: store node heap ourselves
      dsp-bridge: store node msgbuf ourselves
      dsp-bridge: cleanup node_free
      base: copy buffers when appropriate
      base: remove unnecessary cache flushing
      venc: set rate-control to variable
      base: post critical error mesages to the bus

Hoseok Chang (1):
      venc: tune mp4v parms for better performance

Juha Alanen (5):
      vdec: set profile based on the frame size
      vdec: improve H.263 args
      vdec: initial support for WMV9
      venc: set profile correctly for H.263 and MPEG4
      venc: disable single scan output for JPEG encoder

Marco Ballesio (8):
      vdec: fix srcpad setup
      venc: rename mp4venc_stream_params
      venc: add mp4venc_out_stream_params
      base: use proper buffer length
      venc: forcing mpeg4 I frame each i_frame_interval
      venc: reordered mp4venc_args initialization
      venc: added bitrate computation formula
      venc: propagate keyframes properly

Mark Nauwelaerts (2):
      base: safer buffer allocation and freeing
      base: fix element ref leak

Miguel Verdu (2):
      venc: tune MPEG-4 parameters
      venc: tune MPEG-4 parameters for quality

René Stadler (3):
      base: fix thread leak
      base: advance timestamp pointer for empty output buffers
      base: don't use DSP flushing

Tim-Philipp Müller (1):
      base: unref unused output buffer when skipping output

Transcoding for the Internet Tablets the smart way

A while ago I wrote the “official” video transcoding for Maemo how-to based on the wiki page and some heuristics.

The interesting thing here is the intelligent script that automatically finds the right parameters to use for the encoding.

Some of the considerations include:

  • As higher framerate as possible. For smooth videos.
  • Keep aspect-ratio. So the videos don’t look weird.
  • No cropping. You might miss something.
  • Single pass. Bigger files, but constant CPU usage.

Is this thing really smart? Let’s try it.

Crappy clip from YouTube

transcode.rb -v -i youtube.flv
* Input: 320x240 [4:3], 29.917 fps, 0 kbps.
* Output: 320x240 [4:3], 29.917 fps, 400 kbps.
mencoder youtube.flv -o youtube_it.avi -srate 44100 -oac mp3lame -lameopts vbr=0:br=128 -af volnorm -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=mpeg4:vbitrate=400 -ofps 29.917000

Nothing special, the script maintained all the parameters, so there shouldn’t be any problems. Also, the aspect-ratio is not so different from the one of the device. This one is OK.

DVD

transcode.rb -v -i dvd://1
* Input: 720x480 [3:2], 29.97 fps, 7500000 kbps.
* Output: 400x240 [5:3], 29.97 fps, 400 kbps.
mencoder dvd://1 -o 1_it.avi -srate 44100 -oac mp3lame -lameopts vbr=0:br=128 -af volnorm -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=mpeg4:vbitrate=400 -ofps 29.970000 -vf-add scale=400:240

In this case the aspect-ratio is slightly modified (less than 10%), but the target aspect-ratio is exactly the same as the one of the device, so, it will look good.

So far the script does seem intelligent 🙂

High Definition

Now let’s try a non-standard resolution, high bitrate, and H.264 format.

transcode.rb -v -i starcraft.divx -f h264 -q 8
* Input: 1024x436 [256:109], 23.99 fps, 1917920 kbps.
* Output: 352x144 [22:9], 23.99 fps, 1500 kbps.
mencoder starcraft.divx -o starcraft_it.avi -srate 44100 -oac mp3lame -lameopts vbr=0:br=128 -af volnorm -ovc x264 -x264encopts bitrate=1500:nocabac -ofps 23.990000 -vf-add scale=352:144

The aspect ratio now is about 4% different, that’s good. Unfortunately the aspect-ratio is quite different from the one of the device, but that’s not too bad.

This is how it would look like:

screenshot-hd

note H.264 videos look pretty good on the device.

Conclusion

So far there hasn’t been a single video where I had to modify the parameters that this algorithm suggested; sometimes the quality is not that good but increasing it with the -q option does the trick.

Wondering if it would find the right parameter for your clips? Why don’t you try it and find out 🙂

The script is here. And the garage project here.